Response to R. C. Roberts’ Polemic Against Kiddie Anarchism

I’m not even 20 minutes into Roberts’ interview:

However, I already made my acquaintances and signed up for his mailing list…

And in the middle of dinner, while watching a terrible season of Naked and Afraid, I receive my first update:

All The Tails in a Fairy Tale: A Polemic Against Anarchism

*sigh* I have been nerd sniped:

Let’s just say that I didn’t make it through this episode of Naked and Afraid…

Ok, onward…

First things first, towards the end of his post, Roberts says, “I am not an anarchist. And I enjoy mocking the anarchists. There are some, of course, I like more than others; existentialist anarchists will always have my sympathetic ear, and will not join the other anarchists as I toss them over the edge of a ship into the Atlantic.” Clearly, this puts me outside of the scope of Roberts’ criticisms… at least most of them. So I guess I will just have to narrow my own scope of thoughts about anarchism to those that are applicable.

The main argument is that for the most part, anarchists tend to fall into one or more categories of moron. With this I agree, but only kinda-sorta. Throughout the past 20-odd years of my anarchist career, I have had to ask myself over and over again about the sorts of morons that Roberts describes because in my personal experience, those sorts have been marginal. Their population tend to live in anonymous comment sections, Reddit, or whatever the day’s leftist-friendly social media is (which at one point was mostly indymedia) or, in flesh-and-blood they will sometimes enthusiastically attempt to show whatever it is they think leadership is on the fringes of whatever contemporary social movements. These anarchists, who may or may not really be committed, are fortunately not the sort that I have spent my time with. Those whom I have spent my time with tend towards egoist, individualist, insurrectionary, post-Left, nihilist, and post-structuralist anarchism. All of which are tendencies that very much do not fit Roberts’ descriptions.

Yet, these are one of a handful of anarchist types that have been the most productive over the past 20 years and have only recently become less representative. This amalgam of types I find affinity with can be distinguished not only from some of the more disgusting so-called anarchists that Roberts mentions (anarcho-capitalists, National Anarchists, etc.), but also from primitivists, Bookchinites, Platformists, anarcho-syndicalists, and other brands that have come and gone. And while so much variety may be dizzying, the good news is that most types of anarchism have had very little historical impact and adherence. It may come as a surprise to some, but that isn’t the case with the cohort I belong to, who in various forms have been rivaling the more social anarchists since anarchism’s beginnings. Like most criticisms of anarchism that I come across though, my crowd finds little place in Roberts’ polemic.

I realize that this may be what Roberts is addressing when he says, “Not to mention that, given the many factions, ideas, philosophies, and slogans that anarchists have, to go after them on that level is futile; you end up playing whack-a-mole with definitions, authors, and merchandise producers, chasing and trying to disprove every form of anarchism that is created.” However, I don’t think that I can let him get away with excluding one of the foremost tendencies of anarchist history. This may be an ok dismissal if the reader happens to be one who thinks of anarchism as various prefabricated ideologies to choose from a la carte. It is a much different story when someone like yours truly has been so deeply invested in intra-anarchist conflicts and historical research. Not all anarchisms are created equal. Period.

The issue of power is certainly a theme for my kind. However, we agree with the author that neither his gutmensch (which I assume he means those who think human beings are fundamentally good), nor his power-hungry psychopaths belong to any serious anarchist theory. Fortunately for us anarchists, such caricatures of human beings aren’t as common throughout the history of anarchist philosophy as one might assume by talking to some doofus on Twitter. One of our own, Saul Newman, has been criticized by other anarchists for charging the “classical anarchists” with the same crimes that Roberts is charging us with in his piece. Newman wanted to pin the gutmensch on good old Peter Kropotkin. But it turns out that a careful reading of even the classical anarchists demonstrates that anarchists have had a much more nuanced view of human behavior and power. Social psychologist Dennis Fox provides a nice overview of some of said nuance.

So I think I have shown where I agree with Roberts, but let’s delve a little bit deeper into where we might not agree…

I think that Roberts has identified some very real types of people in our society, but I don’t think he has been willing to address the source of their presence. What Roberts is describing more than the figure of the Anarchist is the figure of the adolescent rebel. A figure that is sometimes called an anarchist, perhaps suffering from some sort of infantile disorder, or even calls themselves an anarchist. But nevertheless, a figure that could be called many other things with much clearer diagnostic suggestion.

One of the tragedies of anarchist history is that the spectacular image of the anarchist has long been a bug light for the dullest of teenage rebels. Yes, it also attracts some brilliant ones, but the brand was long ago established. What shouldn’t be left out of saying this though is that such branding has historically been very consciously crafted by anarchists’ enemies. If one wanted a case study in recuperation, there could be no better place to look than the tactics that have been used to create official images of the Anarchist to obfuscate what anarchists were actually thinking and doing. Let’s not forget, the original Red Scare was mostly a response to the feared immigrant anarchists. And even back in those days, depicting anarchists as rabid bomb-throwing fools would attract young lunatics to its symbolism.

Anyway, what we shouldn’t do is let these facts turn us away from the historical contributions of anarchists and their theories. As Roberts himself readily admits, he likes plenty of anarchists anyway. The problem then seems to be more symbolic than anything else. Something tells me that Roberts, should he care to investigate them, wouldn’t be so dismissive of much that anarchists have achieved over the past couple-hundred years. And truly, the “anarchists” that he is criticizing here deserve it from all sides.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to return to my bad TV.